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Alex Merry

Alex Merry is an artist and illustrator who lives in Stroud, in the western reaches of the Cotswolds.

She paints portraits of pets and people, and recently worked for Gucci on their Beauty, Décor and Zumi campaigns.

You may recognise Alex from previous Ffern projects. She is a dancer with Boss Morris, with whom we made a beautiful film to accompany our Autumn 22 fragrance, and makes folk beasts for their revels. She also designed the packaging for the rhubarb seeds included with Spring 24.

For Spring 23, Alex collaborated with Hanan Issa, Wales’ National Poet, to create an artwork for our poster. You can read more about the collaboration below.

How would you describe your work?

My work is rooted in fantasy, folklore and the imagination. Art has always been my way of bringing dream worlds into reality. I work in various different mediums but mainly oils - painting traditional but surreal portraits of people and pets. I also combine drawing and digital for a lot of my illustration work. I think of myself as a folk artist - working from a small studio at home in Stroud, Gloucestershire.

First thoughts when Ffern approached you about responding to a fragrance?

I love the thought of being able to conjure scent through image and colour. And spring is such a potent time of year, I felt a responsibility to do it justice! A lot of my work is linked to the seasonal calendar and my first thoughts turned to dancing on our local Rodborough Common with Boss Morris on the Spring Equinox last year.

How did you approach the painting? Have you incorporated words/poetry into your paintings before?

As an illustrator, I’ve worked with stories and text before but rarely poetry. It was so inspirational to work with Hanan, and her poem was foundational to the design. She painted the most vivid picture and set such a beautiful tone with her words - the image developed very naturally after reading it.

We talked a lot about mythology when discussing the brief - can you tell us a bit about how mythology inspired your piece/inspires your work in general?

Myth and folklore play a big part in my life. I’m part of Boss Morris - an all-female morris dancing group from Stroud in Gloucestershire. Alongside learning the traditional Cotswold dances, we also invent new ones and a big part of what we do is centred around yearly customs. We research older folk mythology, as well as creating new rituals that hold meaning for us, often enacted in our local landscape.

Why do you think mythology is important today? What does it mean to you, personally (if anything)?

It seems to me that humans are story-telling creatures. Myth and narrative helps us make sense of what it means to be alive and what happens to us when we die. It’s a way of explaining the natural world, life’s mysteries and the forces surrounding us. My Dad was the local vicar all through my childhood, so I grew up surrounded by ritual and ancient allegorical stories.

Can you describe your favourite scent?

It’s really hard for me to choose one specific thing. I love the smell of old churches, my cat’s paws, sweetpeas, the quality of the air at the start of Autumn, my late grandmother’s lipsticks on her dressing table, home grown tomato plants, the coconut scent of flowering gorse on my favourite coastal path, the little bottle of vanilla essence that Mum would have in the kitchen cupboard.

Where else do you find your inspiration?

My family, friends and fellow creatives are my main source of inspiration. I have a stack of books by my desk that I always have to hand - Kit Williams, Leonora Carrington, Carlo Crivelli, picture books from when I was a kid, Mary Neal’s Ésperance Morris Book... If I’m ever feeling a bit stuck creatively, I’ll walk up to Rodborough Common and look out over the incredible view. It never fails to get the cogs of inspiration whirring!

What are you working on next?

I have a few lovely oil portrait commissions coming up, and lots of dancing with Boss Morris. We get such varied invitations, so the summer is already full of lovely things to look forward to. I also do quite a lot of morris dance teaching & have several workshops coming up which i’m really excited about.

What is the best advice you could pass on?

To thyself be true!

Photography by Aloha Bonser-Shaw